Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

UNITED STATES v. $ 191

August 2, 1991

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
$ 191,910 IN U.S. CURRENCY, Defendant, BRUCE R. MORGAN, Claimant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: HENDERSON

 THELTON E. HENDERSON, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

 This matter came before the Court on July 29, 1991, on claimant Bruce R. Morgan's motion to suppress, and the government's counter-motion to dismiss. Having carefully considered the parties' written and oral arguments, and the entire record in this matter, the government's motion to dismiss is denied, and claimant's motion to suppress is granted in part, and denied in part, for the reasons set forth below.

 BACKGROUND

 By this action, the government seeks forfeiture of $ 191,910 on the ground that the monies represent proceeds of narcotics sales or purchases. 21 U.S.C. ยง 881(a)(6). At the time the money was seized, it was contained in baggage possessed by claimant Bruce Morgan, who is contesting the forfeiture. Morgan now moves to suppress all evidence stemming from the searches and seizure of the bags on the ground that such actions violated his rights under the fourth amendment. The government has filed a counter-motion seeking dismissal of Morgan's claim in the forfeiture action for lack of standing.

 The underlying facts can be briefly summarized as follows. On March 14, 1990, Morgan placed his carry-on luggage, consisting of a portfolio case, a suitcase, and a soft-sided briefcase on the X-ray scanner device in the pre-boarding inspection area of San Diego Airport. He was preparing to board a flight to Oakland. The X-ray security personnel detected that Morgan was carrying a potentially large amount of United States currency and reported this to the San Diego Harbor Police. The security personnel then identified Morgan to a San Diego Harbor police officer, who approached Morgan in the boarding area. Upon questioning, Morgan stated that he was a gemologist on a business trip to buy jade and that he needed large amounts of cash. Morgan was allowed to proceed on his flight.

 The police officer then contacted an agent of the San Diego Narcotics Task Force who in turn called agent Buckwalter of the San Francisco International Drug Enforcement Agency, and informed him that Morgan was enroute to Oakland.

 After deplaning in Oakland, Morgan walked toward the rental car area in Oakland, where he was approached by Agent Buckwalter and another agent, who identified themselves, and asked Morgan to answer a few questions. Based on Morgan's responses, Buckwalter seized Morgan's bags, believing that he had "reasonable suspicion" to retain them so that they could be submitted to a "dog sniff" for narcotics. Buckwalter subsequently transported the bags to the San Mateo Narcotics Task Force Office in Belmont (after stopping at the San Francisco Airport to drop off another agent's car). Some time after Buckwalter arrived, he was met by Agent O'Malley and his dog, Scoop, who was to perform the dog sniff. When the dog sniff was positive, Buckwalter obtained a search warrant that evening to search the bags. A search of the bags revealed no narcotics; however, the bags contained the $ 191,910 in cash that is the subject of this action.

 A. GOVERNMENT'S MOTION TO DISMISS

 The government moves to dismiss Morgan's claim on the ground that Morgan lacks standing to contest the forfeiture because (1) Morgan contends that he is not the owner of the money at issue, and (2) Morgan has refused to identify the owner or who he obtained the money from.

 Neither of these reasons supports the government's motion. First, it is well established that it is not necessary for the claimant to claim ownership of the property to maintain standing under the forfeiture statute. United States v. 1982 Sanger 24' Spectra Boat, 738 F.2d 1043, 1046 (9th Cir. 1984). A lesser property interest, such as a possessory interest is sufficient. Id.United States v. $ 5,644,540, 799 F.2d 1357, 1365 (9th Cir. 1986) (to establish standing in forfeiture action, a claimant must demonstrate an ownership or possessory interest in the property seized). It is clear that Morgan has a "possessory" interest because the money was seized from his bags while the bags where in his possession. See United States v. $ 122,043, 792 F.2d 1470, 1473 (9th Cir. 1986); cf. United States v. $ 5,644,540, 799 F.2d 1365. *fn1"

 With respect to the second ground, the government fails to cite any authority for its position that a claimant's failure to identify the source of the money precludes the claimant from contesting the forfeiture. In the absence of such authority, we decline to dismiss on this ground.

 B. MOTION TO SUPPRESS

 Morgan forwards five separate grounds for granting his motion to suppress. *fn2" First, his luggage was subjected to an unlawful search by airport security personnel which resulted in the police being improperly alerted to the presence of cash in his luggage. Second, the stopping and questioning of Morgan outside the Oakland Airport constituted an illegal arrest. Third, the agents lacked reasonable suspicion to detain the luggage. Fourth, the delay between the time the luggage was seized and the dog sniff occurred exceeded permissible limits, and fifth, the search warrant was invalid. Each is discussed in turn.

 1. Airport Search

 In United States v. Davis, 482 F.2d 893, 910 (9th Cir. 1973), the Ninth Circuit upheld warrantless, administrative, airport searches for security purposes. However, the Court recognized the danger that screening luggage for weapons and explosives could be subverted into a general search for evidence of crime, and that should such danger materialize, it would not hesitate to exclude the evidence so obtained. Id. at 909.

 The Ninth Circuit recently revisited the issue in United States v. $ 124,570, 873 F.2d 1240 (9th Cir. 1989). In that case the claimant's briefcase revealed a "dark mass" on the x-ray screen at the Seattle airport, and the scanner operator asked the claimant if she could open the briefcase. After the claimant reluctantly consented, the operator found large amounts of cash, and asked the claimant where he was headed. She then reported this information to a U.S. Customs agent. The briefcase was subsequently seized.

 In suppressing the evidence from the seizure, the Court first reiterated that the validity of warrantless airport searches rests on their limited intended scope -- to search for explosives or weapons. It then concluded that the search at the Seattle airport exceeded this limited scope. Specifically, the Court found that where information is passed on to authorities "pursuant to an established relationship, fostered by official policy . . . [and] nurtured by payment of monetary rewards," id. at 1247, n. 7, then the airport search has been "effectively transform[ed] [from] a limited check on weapons and explosives into a general search for evidence of crime." Id. at 1257. In other words, the undisputed "established working relationship" between the x-ray scanners and law enforcement authorities at the Seattle airport had a "significant distorting effect" on airport searches, "materially altering the calculus by which we held such warrantless searches reasonable." $ 124,570, 873 F.2d at 1245.

 The Court distinguished cases in which there was no indication of a cooperative relationship between airport personnel and law enforcement officials or no "investigatory police motive." Id. at 1247, n. 7. It also emphasized that evidence "inadvertently discovered as ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.